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Diary: Chine McDonald

30 October 2020


Mixed reception

MY TODDLER is an extrovert. Or perhaps semi-lockdown life means he is just getting bored with seeing his parents’ faces. Apart from postal workers, we now have two weekly visitors who stand at our front door and knock.

The first arrives on a Saturday morning between 7.30 and 8.30. It’s the Sainsbury’s delivery driver. “Hello, Mr Shopping,” my son greets him at the door, before taking a small item such as a solitary pepper or a single block of cheese into the kitchen, while leaving us with the heavy stuff.

He is less fond of our new Tuesday-evening visitor: the Covid tester. We have signed up to a study being undertaken by the Office for National Statistics and the University of Oxford, which includes weekly testing. The Covid tester arrives, and an anxious half-hour ensues as we answer a series of questions and take the swab tests ourselves, before trying our best to get our two-year-old to have a cotton swab stuck up his nose and towards the back of his throat.

After initial friendliness with the first Covid tester, he has cottoned on to the fact that after the small talk will come the unpleasant procedure. My clever boy now tries to pre-empt this and scurry away before the swab kits emerge. But there is no escape. And, besides, the vouchers that we receive in return for taking part in the study will go towards his birthday present.


Absent friends

I MISS the sound of a house full of friends eating, laughing, and drinking together: cutlery and glasses clinking, the welcome sounds of appreciation, the comfort of familiarity and friendship. I fancy myself as a bit of a chef, and love nothing more than cooking, hosting, and entertaining.

Although we have had a few visitors here and there over these past few wretched months, I think back to the last time I felt the joy of entertaining without the nervousness of accidental contamination.

It was February — my birthday — and I’d invited a load of friends from church over for a feast of curries. There were too many of us; we had asked a few guests to bring their own foldable chairs. We crowded round the dining table, elbow to elbow, tucking in; talking life, and love, and God. Life will not feel truly back to normal until the day I can do this again, and I can’t wait for the post-Covid curry feast.

As much as I miss these times, however, I am becoming fond of the simplicity of life. As our son’s third birthday approaches, I think back to his previous two. For his first, we hired a cute venue in Leicester Square and filled it with about 100 friends and family, music, balloons, and bubbles. For his second, we opted for a party at home with far too many people, and it was just as chaotic as the first.

Each birthday has involved spending hours making elaborate cakes. The first was an In the Night Garden-themed cake, complete with sugar-crafted Iggle Piggle, Makka Pakka, and Upsy Daisy; the second, a seven-layered rainbow cake topped with hand-crafted penguins.

This year, it is increasingly looking as if the celebration will be just the three of us, around the dining table — with a cake bought from Marks & Spencer’s. With Covid regulations as they are, the cake is likely to be three-tiered. My little one’s only request: that it is chocolate.


Historical close-up

IT IS three years since I became a regular presenter of Thought for the Day. The first time I presented the regular slot on the Today programme, I was eight months pregnant and still suffering from severe morning sickness.

As I sat in the studio opposite John Humphrys, preparing to deliver my profound Thought to the nation, the main thought going through my head was: Don’t be sick, don’t be sick, don’t be sick. I knew the listeners would not appreciate the sound of a pregnant woman retching while they tucked into their cornflakes. Perhaps it would have gone viral if I had.

I relayed this story to a Zoom-room full of Thought for the Day contributors recently, in a virtual leaving do for the wonderful Christine Morgan, who led on BBC radio’s religious output and had been a broadcaster for 33 years (Comment, 9 October).

The room was full of those who had presented Thought over the past 50 years. It was moving to hear stories of how we have had to relate some of the biggest stories that have rocked the world — from 9/11, to the Beslan school shooting, and the shock election of Donald Trump — through the lens of faith, while trying to make sense of them ourselves. We have felt the weight of responsibility, but also a profound sense of privilege.


Babes and sucklings

BLACK History Month has once again presented opportunities to celebrate my culture and identity, to be reminded that black is beautiful — especially in this year, when it has felt as if there has been a reckoning regarding racial justice. I am proud to be black.

Our son is fascinated by colour. “What colour is mummy?” I ask. “Brown,” he says. “What colour is daddy?” I ask. “Pink,” he says. “What colour are you?” He pauses. “I’m golden brown.”


Chine McDonald is a writer, broadcaster, and head of public engagement at Christian Aid.

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